by Clark Groome
A strong, independent Jewish lady and her wily black chauffeur form the core of the delicious “Driving Miss Daisy,” Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play that can be seen at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse through March 26.
“Driving Miss Daisy” explores the 25-year period during which Hoke Coleburn (Brian Anthony Wilson) is chauffeur to Daisy Werthan (Carla Belver).
The play begins in 1948 when Miss Daisy, then 72, rather spectacularly cracks up her Packard and is forced by her son, Boolie (Tony Braithwaite), to get a driver.
Much against her wishes Boolie hires Hoke to be the chauffeur, letting him know that no matter what his mother does, he’s to stick it out: Boolie’s paying so Daisy can’t fire him.
What the proud, independent, stubborn woman can do is resist. She banishes the winning and understanding Hoke to the kitchen where he’s not to talk to the cleaning woman.
Gradually Daisy gives in, initially allowing Hoke to drive her to the Piggly Wiggly for groceries. As we follow them through their 25 years together we come to understand that at a very basic level “Driving Miss Daisy” is a love story. They don’t become lovers or anything as ordinary as that. No, Miss Daisy and Hoke do something even rarer, more difficult and more meaningful: they become friends. Each understands the other; each nurtures the other.
The play demands a great deal of the actors. Over the 75 minutes of the play the characters must age 25 years. They must be lovable without being cloying. They must be characters without being caricatures.
The Act II production, sensitively directed by James J. Christy, features the superb Carla Belver as Daisy and Brian Anthony Wilson as Hoke. Belver is spot on from the first minute we meet her.
Wilson’s Hoke isn’t quite as convincing in the early going but grows into his character in much the same way his character grows in its relationship with Miss Daisy.
Tony Braithwaite shines as Boolie.
The play takes place in Atlanta between 1948 and 1973. The period is set instantly at the play’s beginning and as it unfolds by short news moments on the old console radio in Miss Daisy’s living room. Richard Nixon, John Kennedy, George Wallace and many others, along with the music of the era, make it clear just when we’re engaged and what was going on in the relationships between the races and those involving other minorities. Not only were blacks of the time having a hard time in Georgia, so were Jews.
“Driving Miss Daisy” does well what theater does best: it portrays interesting and appealing characters simply and honestly, drawing depth from the ordinary and truth from the mundane. Act II’s production, while suffering a bit from some choppy scene changes, is an admirable mounting of a very special play.
For tickets call 215-654-0200 or visit www.act2.org